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Real prison justice requires more than punishment

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) welcomes new proposals for prison reform put forward by the Minister of Corrections and non-government organisations recently.

In particular, we support the the Hōkai Rangi strategy, announced this week, by the Department of Corrections, Ara Poutama Aotearoa.

The Association backs the policy goal of to reducing the Māori prison population to replicate the percentage of Māori in the general population and bring down reoffending rates by providing new services informed by Te Ao Māori, in partnership with community organisations. The strategy marks a move toward a justice system that is both more rehabilitating and reflects a genuine partnership with Maori.

“The Association broadly supports the principles and goals of this strategy, particularly its aim of reducing numbers of Tangata Whenua inside prisons, a person-centred rehabilitation approach, upholding dignity and mana and enhancement of Whanaungatanga.” ANZASW Chief Executive Lucy Sandford-Reed said.

“We will be following its implementation and outcomes over coming years, with the expectation that the proposals will be delivered in the true spirit of partnership with Māori,” Sandford-Reed added.

“Many of the immediate actions committed to by the Department, including the roll out of kaupapa Māori services at every prison, heightened inmate access to whānau, whānau access to rehabilitation programmes and the creation of a Deputy Chief Executive-Māori position represent positive, meaningful progress,” she observed.

“But it is important that we wait to see the detail on further steps, for example, the working definition and appropriate evaluation standards for kaupapa Māori, and how new models will be applied to administering sentences and delivering treatment and support, as is planned,” she said.

“Additionally, it is unfortunate that there is scant information on how these improvements will be funded or the extent to which it will make use of the uniquely valuable expertise of social workers, whose role will be pivotal in ensuring the success of these plans,” she noted.

“Nonetheless, we strongly support the emphasis that the Hōkai Rangi initiative places on person-centred approaches, informed by tikanga Māori and delivered in partnership with Tangata Whenua, with the aim of developing resilience, Mana and social reconnection,” the Chief Executive continued.

“With this in mind, we in principle support proposals to return voting rights to prisoners, as is has been recommended in a report produced by the Waitangi Tribunal. Although this would be a comparatively modest movement in the right direction, it would represent another step toward the deeper reform that is required to provide real justice to Māori and our communities as a whole,” she said.

“We also support many of the observations made by the Salvation Army in a recent analysis of criminal justice policy here in Aotearoa New Zealand. The report notes that a heightened emphasis on reconnection to community and building social capital in the prison setting and, eventually, beyond its walls, could produce improved outcomes for inmates. Social workers should have a central role to play in helping to facilitate and deliver these changes,“ she added.

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